WASHINGTON — Nineteen advocacy groups and Congo experts applaud U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his appointment of former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) as the new U.S. Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
They congratulate Special Envoy Feingold in an open letter, and call on him to apply leverage and use incentives to focus on critical democratization reforms in Congo. They also urge him to ensure that a peace process between Congo and its neighbors address security, economic, and refugee issues. Anthony W. Gambino, a co-author of the letter and former USAID Mission Director to the DRC, said: “The most fundamental challenge that Special Envoy Feingold faces is to help create political space for democratic forces that can, over time, generate an anti-corruption, reform-minded government. Regrettably, donors have been sending the opposite message to the DRC: that the cost of rigging elections and evading democratic accountability will be low.” John Prendergast, a co-author of the letter and Co-Founder of the Enough Project, said: “Special Envoy Feingold has a great opportunity to address drivers of regional violence and tension that impact so negatively on the people of the Congo. While making it clear that there will be serious consequences for any continuation of past Rwandan and Ugandan support to Congolese armed groups, he should support investment initiatives that would demonstrate the benefits of regional economic cooperation. Past initiatives have lacked this crucial incentive for peace.” David Abramowitz, Vice President of Policy & Government Relations at Humanity United, said: “We welcome former Senator Feingold’s appointment as the new U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region. He is recognized as an outspoken human rights advocate, particularly on the crises in the Sudans and in Congo. At this critical moment in U.S. policy toward the DRC and its neighbors, Special Envoy Feingold’s continued advocacy for peace, stability, and accountability in the region will be essential.” The signers urged Feingold and the U.S. government to press for the holding of free and fair Congolese provincial and local elections beginning in 2014. They also call for expansion of assistance to build democratic and effective political parties, and to strengthen legislative capacity. They further advocate using “carrots and sticks” to advance cooperation between Congo and its neighbors. Such measures could include sanctions and restrictions of financial support to Rwanda and Uganda if those nations continue to support armed groups. The measures might also include backing a regional mechanism to monitor and deter smuggling of conflict minerals; and developing new incentives for conflict-free investments in the region. Since 1996, an estimated 5.4 million people have lost their lives in the DRC’s conflicts. The current crisis, triggered by military advances by Rwandan-supported M23 rebels and corruption within Congo, has raised international attention on the region. This global focus has resulted in the recent appointment of former Irish President Mary Robinson as U.N. Special Envoy, the signing of a peace framework by 11 regional countries, and the dispatch of a U.N. intervention brigade composed of African troops. The letter underlines the importance of well-vetted and monitored U.S. support for reforms in the military and justice sectors to underpin democratic development and eliminate impunity for international crimes and other human rights abuses, including sexual violence. And it supports the provision of additional resources for U.N. programs to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate or repatriate rebel and outside armed groups such as M23, the Hutu-led FDLR and Lord’s Resistance Army. In the appeal to Feingold, the signers address shortcomings in past international efforts to deal with the regional crisis. Instead of relying on vague promises from the conflicting parties, they support – as does a recent U.N. Security Council Resolution – the establishment of specific benchmarks for progress, close monitoring of performance, and appropriate follow-up measures. In addition, they invite Feingold to take initiatives to improve donor coordination and leverage. Jacques Bahati, Policy Analyst at the Africa Faith and Justice Network, said:
“Bad governance is at the core of the crisis in the Great Lakes region. In the DRC, where most of the nation is at peace, despite pockets of violence, all of the people suffer from systemic injustice, corruption, lawlessness, and lack of infrastructure. The Congo suffers from a serious lack of a capable army to protect its sovereignty against internal and external threats. We hope that Special Envoy Feingold will push for good governance and security sector reform. In particular, we hope he will ensure that Congo’s army does not repeat its mistake of 2009 by integrating Rwandan soldiers who are embedded with the M23 rebels.”
Sean D. Carasso, Founder of Falling Whistles, said: “For many years, a growing coalition of grassroots leaders in Congo, joined by activists around the world, has called for peace and organized for systemic change in Congo. We seek to reverse the West’s historic relationship with the Congolese people and move from exploitation to partnership. Senator Feingold’s appointment as Special Envoy marks a victory for people of conscience everywhere.” Alysha Atma, President of the Atma Foundation in Portland, Ore., said: “We look forward to Special Envoy Feingold’s encouragement of civil society groups, women’s groups, in coordination with Mary Robinson, the new U.N. special envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region. We believe that encouraging these voices will help sustain long-term stability and peace in the region.” The signatories of the letter include Anthony W. Gambino, former USAID Mission Director to the DRC; Stephen R. Weissman, Former Staff Director; House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Africa; John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project; Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group; Wynnette LaBrosse of Open Square; David Abramowitz of Humanity United; Sarah Pray of the Open Society Policy Center; Jason K. Stearns of the Rift Valley Institute; Jolly Okot and Lisa Dougan of Invisible Children; Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital; Michael Poffenberger of The Resolve; Michel Gabaudan of Refugees International; Jacques Bahati of the Africa Faith and Justice Network; Vukasin Petrovic of Freedom House; Sean D. Carasso and Monique Beadle of Falling Whistles; and Alysha Atma of the Atma Foundation.